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On the day Jane Doe was reburied, many officers were at the gravesite. "It's eerie, " Grafton writes, "to think about the power this woman still has. Here we are, thirty-three years later, and she still wants to go home.
"She was a "Jane Doe, " an unidentified white female whose decomposed body was discovered near a quarry off California's Highway 1. The case fell to the Santa Teresa County Sheriffs Department, but the detectives had little to go on. The woman was young, her hands were bound with a length of wire, there were multiple stab wounds, and her throat had been slashed. After months of investigation, the murder remained unsolved.
That was eighteen years ago. Now the two men who found the body, both nearing the end of long careers in law enforcement, want one last shot at the case. Old and ill, they need someone to help with their legwork and they turn to Kinsey Millhone. They will, they tell her, find closure if they can just identify the victim. Kinsey is intrigued and agrees to the job.
But revisiting the past can be a dangerous business, and what begins with the pursuit of Jane Doe's real identity ends in a high-risk hunt for her killer.
The ABCs of crime fiction
Sue Grafton is drawing dangerously near the end of the alphabet with her popular Kinsey Millhone mysteries, which started with A Is For Alibi and continues through the new release Q Is For Quarry. One might well ask, at the rate of one book per year, what will she do about a title in 2012, having run through all the available letters? Some folks here at BookPage have suggested that she use the Cyrillic alphabet, or perhaps the Greek, which would buy her a few more years. After due consideration, though, it would seem that double letters might be the way to go. (A few suggestions: AA Is For Alcoholics Anonymous, BB Is For Gun, and so on, through ZZ Is For Top.) By this time, Grafton would be upwards of 100 years of age; just in case, though, there are myriad possibilities with triple letters, including AAA Is For Auto Club, all the way through ZZZ Is For Snoring.
Q Is For Quarry finds private investigator Kinsey Millhone investigating a very cold case: 18 years ago, the body of a young girl was found in a quarry near the central California town of Santa Teresa, where Millhone plies her trade. Although the police had dental records and a good set of prints, neither the victim nor the killer was ever identified. For years the case has weighed heavily on the two retired cops who investigated the murder, and they decide to have one last look around to see if there is any way to unearth new evidence. Enter the young and limber Kinsey Millhone, hired to do some of the legwork. When it turns out the quarry is owned by Kinsey's estranged grandmother, the case threatens to open a Pandora's box of familial issues. Q Is For Quarry provides more insight into the detective's convoluted family relationships than any of Grafton's previous novels, and it's a cracking good story, as well.
A note: Q Is For Quarry is based on a real-life homicide that occurred in 1969, the still unsolved killing of a young hitchhiker. Largely because of Grafton's interest and research, the case has been reopened.
Cracking a cold case
Laura Lippman's latest, The Last Place (Morrow, $23.95, 352 pages, ISBN 0380978199), finds a none-too-remorseful Tess Monaghan in anger management therapy, mandated by a judge who found her treatment of a cyber-pervert a little irreverent (suffice it to say her methodology involved the date-rape drug Rohypnol and a large tube of Nair). Now this feisty Baltimore PI must submit to regular visits with a therapist to bring to light "the roots of her rage." Meanwhile, her friend Whitney, who helped with the bushwhacking of the deviant (and who was never charged, thanks to Tess' resolute silence on the subject), has contracted with Tess to investigate some old unsolved cases of domestic murder. Problem is, one of the women died in a fire that was ruled accidental, one case was thoroughly investigated and laid to rest by the authorities, and one of the women is, in fact, still alive. But one of the women was beheaded by person or persons unknown, and her bereaved boyfriend bears a striking resemblance to interviewees in each of the other deaths. The Last Place, the seventh in the Tess Monaghan series, is a clever and diabolical tale with a plethora of excellent twists to keep readers on their toes.
Tip of the ice pick
October's award for best mystery goes to Michael Connelly (not the first time, and likely not the last) for the superb Chasing the Dime (Little Brown, $25.95, 369 pages, ISBN 0316153915). When Henry Pierce separates from his girlfriend and moves into his new apartment, he (quite naturally) gets a new phone number. A rather popular number, as it turns out; it was previously owned by an upscale "gentleman's escort" named Lilly, whose picture is plastered all over the personal ads and the Internet. Most folks would just have the number changed, but Henry has given his contact information to all and sundry and can't face the daunting process of notifying everyone. Besides, he is more than a little intrigued. As his amateurish investigation into the life of the elusive Lilly progresses, Pierce finds himself stepping on the toes of some career criminals and attracting the unwanted attentions of the police as well. When Lilly disappears mysteriously, Pierce becomes the chief suspect. In classic Hitchcock tradition, Pierce is portrayed as the hapless victim of circumstance, or perhaps something more devilishly orchestrated; there is nobody he feels he can trust, and his world is inexorably caving in, piece by bloody piece. Chasing the Dime is the do-not-miss mystery of the season!